If you’ve been a regular reader of Watching Gravity for a while now, bless you. You probably already know then that I have a strange fixation with the subject of happiness. It seems that every few months a new spate of articles surface on the topic as some new research comes out. Then, I link to them here and bore you all to death. For all our interest in being happy, reading about happiness seems a bit removed and unexciting, I suppose. So, indulge me again as I offer up a few more bits gleaned from recent reading.
The most interesting feature of recent articles is the impact that relationships have on happiness. For example, recent research points out that those who read more and socialize more are generally happier (See! You’re halfway there already!). But it’s more likely that happy people tend to read and socialize more, and not that those things make people happy.
By contrast, increased TV viewing is correlated to decreased happiness. But the same thinking follows here: It is unhappy people who tend to watch more TV, and not TV-watching that makes people unhappy (so keep watching!). TV is actually a means of immediate gratification, even if short-lived and rather shallow in the final analysis. One researcher said that TV simply functions as an “opiate.” I guess opium makes people happy. I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone on it.
Further research up on the Internet last week on the social impact of happiness claims that happiness is contagious, to a crazy degree. You don’t even have to know the person and they can have an impact on your happiness. "If your friend's friend's friend becomes happy, that has a bigger impact on you being happy than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket." You’ll be happier if your friend-twice-removed is happy than if someone gave you 5 large. That’s hard to believe (but it’s science!).
But they point out the most important factor. While happiness might seem like the quintessence of self-centered individualism, it’s intrinsically linked to community, to being connected. "You have to see them [your friends] and be in physical and temporal proximity.” This seems in keeping with the previous TV findings in saying that happy people socialize more. Happiness correlates to being in community with others.
In their Nov/Dec issue, Books & Culture, a favorite periodical of mine, employed Scot McKnight to author an article on the topic. It is fitting for me, who takes everything seriously (it’s ridiculous), that I would be, ahem, happy to see a serious contemplation of happiness.
McKnight cites one author’s book and again connects happiness to community, but in a different way. “The best way to predict our feelings about tomorrow [= happiness] is to see how others are feeling today.” That is, find others who are already living the way we expect to be living in the future. We’ll see better where we’re headed. It’s less about community as a context for contagious happiness and more of one as an indicator for how sick we could get.